‘Sweden needs an honest conversation about immigration and integration’

'Sweden needs an honest conversation about immigration and integration'
Edinah Masanga, right, and protesters at Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson's speech in Järva. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT & private
OPINION: We need to be able to talk to our enemies, even if we don't like each other, argues Zimbabwean journalist Edinah Masanga.

I should have written this piece a week ago but thanks to the effective integration system of Sweden I was away up north celebrating Midsummer.

But even as I lay on my back seeing mosquitoes hovering over me looking the size of bats – high on Croatian wine and mojitos – I kept thinking about the heckling of Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson at the Järvaveckan politics festival, where hecklers disrupted his speech calling him names.

Politics is a dirty game, I acknowledge that (the hecklers could easily have been working at the instigation of other political parties, who knows), but I write this article as a human. In fact, I write this article as a black, foreign, African woman living in Sweden. So no, I'm not some malicious person defending a far-right party. I'm a human whose language is love but also someone whom Åkesson's stance affects negatively.

Åkesson himself responded to the hecklers saying: “I think one theme is democracy and an important part of democracy is dialogue. To be able to talk to each other without using ugly words and yelling and instead showing respect for each other's opinions.”

I found myself agreeing with the very same man I have come not to like very much because of the things his party stands for, but the human in me agreed with him in that instance that heckling anyone is not a solution. It will never be one. In fact, it is a malignant replication of the very thing we oppose – the assumption that those we do not like do not deserve dignity.

In fact, Jimmie, it's what we have been trying to tell you and your guys, that if you think that immigration presents certain challenges – which honestly speaking, it does – it does not mean that political parties should further ideologies that shut people out. Instead, political parties from all divides should have an honest conversation about immigration and integration. An honest conversation.

READ ALSO: How is Sweden tackling its integration challenge?

Jimmie Åkesson speaking at the Järva political festival. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

If I met Jimmie Åkesson today I would engage him, not heckle him. I would never heckle anyone no matter how much I do not like what they stand for. Åkesson and his party and their other brigades in Europe advocate for a world I do not want to live in, they advance views from a side of human beings that I do not want to see. But, if I behave like them in a way I become like them, only in a different voice and different message – but same difference, right?

We can't claim to want to make the world a better place by imitating the very things we claim not to stand for. In my world, the one in my head, the perfect one which does not exist, nothing is worth dehumanizing another human being. In fact, we should show them a better side of us that, like African icon Nelson Mandela said: “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

I do know that maybe working with people whose ideologies are bent on excluding other people may be hard, but it's the only humane solution that leads to a calmer, truer world.

Edinah Masanga is a Zimbabwean journalist living in Sweden. She is the editor of feminist lifestyle blog The International Woman.